1838 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Hood

S. C. Hall, in The Book of Gems. The Modern Poets and Artists of Great Britain (1838) 254.



THOMAS HOOD was born in the Poultry, London, in 1798. His father was a native of Scotland, and, for many years, acting partner in the firm of Vernor, Hood, and Sharp, extensive Booksellers and Publishers. Thomas Hood was in his childhood remarkable for great vivacity of spirits; and at a very early age gave tokens of the genius for which he has been since distinguished. When a boy, our informant states, "he was continually making shrewd and pointed remarks upon topics of which he was presumed to know nothing." He finished his education at Mr. Wanostrocht's academy, Camberwell; and on leaving school, his health being precarious, he was recommended to try the effect of a sea voyage on his constitution. The sea, however, appears to have had no attractions for the future Poet: in one of the pleasantest of his poems he sums up all the annoyances to which those who are "far from the land" are invariably subjected:

All the sea dangers,
Buccaneers, rangers,
Pirates and Sallee-men,
Algerine galleymen,
Tornadoes and Typhons,
And horrible Syphons,
&c. &c. &c.

Mr. Hood subsequently resided for a considerable period with his relatives in Dundee; and on his return to London, having manifested a taste for drawing, and expressed a desire to pursue the art of engraving, he was articled to his uncle, Mr. Robert Sands, with a view to acquire a knowledge of the profession. He passed two years sketching with the pencil, now and then taking up the graver, but chiefly composing poetry: his compositions found their way into the London Magazine, and at once attracted attention. A path to fame was speedily marked out for him; and he has taken his station as one of the most original and agreeable writers of the day.

The countenance of Mr. Hood is more solemn than merry: there is nothing in his appearance to indicate that wit and humour for which he is so eminent. He is by no means brilliant in conversation; but seems as if continually taking in the matter which he gives out sparingly in general society. We believe, indeed, that his mind is serious rather than comic; that the poems which have made so many readers laugh, are the produce of deep thought and study, and by no means the outbreaks of natural humour. We think we perceive this even in his merriest strains: few of them are without a touch of melancholy; and the topics he selects as fittest for him, are usually of a grave and sombre cast. We have never known him laugh heartily, either in company or in rhyme. It is highly to his credit, that with so much power in dealing with the burlesque, he has never indulged in personal satire: we look in vain through his hooks for a single passage that can give pain to any living person; neither does he ever verge upon indelicacy, or treat with lightness or indifference sacred subjects. Perhaps it is impossible to find a greater contrast than that which is presented by the writings of Thomas Hood, and Peter Pindar. The one cannot be facetious without exhibiting venom; — the other, in his most playful moments, is never either ill-tempered or envious. Indeed, kindliness, benevolence, and generosity are the characteristics even of Mr. Hood's "satirical" productions.

It is, however, less to the humorous than to the serious compositions of Thomas Hood that we desire to direct the reader's attention. His name is so completely linked with "joking," that few are at all aware of his exquisite talent for pure and genuine poetry. While his Whims and Oddities have passed through many editions, his Plea of the Midsummer Fairies has never reached a second; and while his Comic Annuals have brought him a large income, his delicious Lyrics have scarcely yielded sufficient to pay the printer. We refer to the few extracts we have selected, for proof that Mr. Hood has claims to afar higher and more enviable reputation than that which his "puns" have conferred upon him. More tender, more graceful, or more beautifully wrought lyrics are scarcely to be found in the language. They "smack of the old Poets;" they have all the truth and nature for which the great Bards are pre-eminent; and while Mr. Hood has caught their spirit, he has not fallen into the error that has proved fatal to many of his contemporaries, — a mistaken notion that by copying the slips and blots which occasionally mar the delicate beauty of their writings, he was imitating their style and character.